From Shoebox to Field Guide
PEN WORLD|April 2023
How a casual collection of Sheaffer pencils inspired a comprehensive catalog (excerpted from the foreword to A Field Guide to Sheaffer's Pencils)
JONATHAN A. VELEY
From Shoebox to Field Guide

One warm spring afternoon in 1981, on the short walk home from the bus stop after school, I noticed something laying on the sidewalk: a black and white mechanical pencil marked "Sheaffer's" on the clip. It was my first mechanical pencil, and that little Sheaffer became my daily companion over the next few years as I filled journals, did my homework, and idly doodled my way through the rest of my schooling. I still have it today.

After 1 started collecting pencils in 1999 or so, my little hoard of Sheaffer pencils expanded. At first, I "fished with hand grenades:" Sheaffers would arrive in lots that included other pencils that interested me, and I would compare every new arrival to all of the others that resided in a shoebox. If a Sheaffer pencil that came in differed in any respect from what I had, I would hold onto it. Some day, I thought, I'll get them organized.

By the time I settled down to write The Catalogue of American Pencils in 2011, 1 had a shoebox full of Sheaffer pencils. With the help of Matt McColm, 1 sorted them into groups in order to present what I had accumulated in some semblance of order. The result was somewhat satisfying but by no means complete, and after the book was finished, back they went into that shoebox.

This story is from the April 2023 edition of PEN WORLD.

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This story is from the April 2023 edition of PEN WORLD.

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